Oil Promises

A film by Elke Sasse, Andrea Stäritz and Ebele Okoye, 90min., Ghana, 2020

When oil is discovered in Ghana in 2007, the dreams of local communities begin to soar. Nigerian animation artist Ebele Okoye has high hopes of her own, above all that Ghana can avoid the fate of the Niger Delta, where the oil heralded disaster. Perhaps the promises will actually be fulfilled this time and the black gold will bring progress and a more modern life for the underdeveloped villages: paved streets, electricity, maybe even jobs. When the drilling begins in 2010, she resolves to observe developments more closely.

By 2010, Ghana has become an oil country. Offshore drilling is underway, international oil companies are seeing rising revenues and investors are presenting plans to industrialise and develop the former “Gold Coast”. Where colonial powers once staked their flags, small fishing villages without water or electricity are now waiting for their share of the spoils. The entire region is poised before transformation and the villagers dream of a better future:

Farmer Adom clears the bush for the construction of a new refinery as well as modern houses with bathrooms for himself and the other villagers.

Teacher Matthew is elated about plans for a luxury hotel. He wants to show tourists around the ancient fort, which was built by the Germans.

Gifty, a hawker, hopes to operate the bulldozers that will lay the foundations for a gas processing plant in her village.

Some years later and the bulldozers have arrived in Gifty’s village, but they are operated by Chinese workers. Other villages continue to wait for the promised developments. We encounter them again in 2014 and 2019, and still they wait. And as the bush reclaims the cleared land, the dreams of the communities diminish.

OIL PROMISES is a case study in globalisation from the perspective of those who never stop dreaming that they will see a share of the prosperity. Throughout, it becomes clear that the high-tech industry is operating in a parallel universe and is ruthlessly exploiting the natural wealth of their home region.

Over a period of 10 years, filmmaker Elke Sasse and journalist Andrea Stäritz have documented the developments in three small villages on the Western Coast of Ghana. The result of their work is an emotional film about people who dream of benefiting from incredible riches.

Animation artist Ebele Okoye includes her personal point of view and uses vivid animations to provide a commentary. As a citizen of a nation hit particularly hard by the oil curse, she takes a critical look at the activities and assurances of international oil companies, investors and politicians, and questions why, against all the evidence, the locals still take these promises at face value.

What happens when a number of small African fishing villages are pulled in and overtaken by the forces of globalisation? Could this story mirror those of the past, where profits disappear and the fishermen are left to pick up the debris?

TV Broadcast dates and times | DW